Coastal wetland ecosystems along the Great Lakes shorelines are extremely valuable natural resources. They provide numerous environmental and recreational benefits, and they serve as critical habitats for fish and wildlife populations. In general terms, wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems; they are characterized by periodic submergence or a water table at or near the surface and a predominance of hydric soils and hydrophytes. Changes in shoreline positions over time result in concomitant changes in the amount of adjacent coastal wetlands, frequently resulting in a permanent loss of these valuable resources. In the Great Lakes region, the main natural cause of shoreline changes are lake-level fluctuations that result from two interactive factors. One factor is the glacio-isostatic rebound of the lake basins, which has been occurring since the end of the late Wisconsin glaciation to the present. This crustal rebounding has slowly uplifted previous lake outlets, warped and tilted lake basins, and changed lake levels and shoreline positions. On the basis of historic lake-level gauge records, measured modern differential vertical uplift rates range from 0.26 ft/century in the southern part of the Great Lakes drainage basin to 1.74 ft/century in the northern part of the basin (Larsen, 1989). The second factor contributing to lake-level fluctuations is climate variability, which controls the amount of regional precipitation and evaporation, storm frequency, runoff, and resulting lake levels. Climate variability can occur over a wide spectrum of time scales; it can range from seasonal variations, to long-term trends of a few years or decades in duration, to trends lasting hundred of thousands of years. Climatic variations, in conjunction with glacio-isostatic rebound, have resulted in substantial temporal variability of the Great Lakes shorelines and associated wetland tracts during post-glacial times.
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Shoreline and coastal wetland variability along the west shore of Green Bay, Marinette and Oconto counties, Wisconsin